A December Canoe trip thoughts on the amazing cattail and other ecology
Anne Dillard writes that she takes walks to keep an eye on things. So, to check up on the lake on a unexpectedly mild still day of subdued soft sunshine in mid December I went for a short canoe trip along the shore. I pulled out on a patch of gravel to inspect a small wetland that we call The Swale. It's mostly full of woody shrubby button bush but here and there a few cattail spikes had managed to establish. Possibly they took root last year when the water levels were low enough to expose more mud than usual. A very faint barely detectable south wind was filtering up the length of the brown and gold swamp. The low winter noon sun back lit the cattail spikes as they spread their seed. The silent flight of countless tiny sparks of life brought all kinds of thoughts profound and otherwise to mind. The fuzzy seed heads shone like incandescent torches against the dark background as they released streams and clots and clumps of seed. The bits of floating fluff looked like sparks off a July Fourth sparkler.
How many? A multitude. A vast swarm. An uncountable quantity. A number too great to even consider. Life flowed past me constantly. Some would go on to found dynasties and cattail empires of their own in a ditch or pond somewhere. Most would soon land on the lake's cold placid surface to expire. Strange to think how full of life the air usually is. Pollen grains, tiny seeds. Spider silk, midges, spores and cysts, they're all up there, like the plankton in the Gulf of Maine I once studied. We just don't see all that aerial plankton being sent aloft during the growing season by all sorts of reproductive plant and animal apparatus hard at work distributing new life.
When I got back ashore I asked Google how many seeds are in a cat tail head. About 300,000. And How many stalks per acre? About 86,000. So a one acre marsh can crank about 25 billion plus potential cattails. I think I'll stop right there with the cattails.
Here's a note from USA Today dated Dec 15 COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Toxic algae blooms have never been worse in Lake Erie, and the situation is threatening fish and tourism, Ohio officials said. Analysis shows numbers of walleye and yellow perch — the lake's most-lucrative sport-fish species — drop significantly as the level of algae rises, and that affects the lake's $10 billion annual tourism industry, The Columbus Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/uiOz6H ). Algae blooms are fed by phosphorous, which has been above safe levels, Roger Knight, program administrator for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said in a report presented Wednesday to the Lake Erie Commission in Columbus. "The trends are moving in the wrong direction no matter where on the lake you go," Knight said. Increased farm fertilizer runoff because of record rainfall is one reason for the higher phosphorous levels. Knight said.
And this just in via e mail Dec 16 Watertown Daily Times The Agriculture Department announced new standards for the spreading of fertilizer, including manure, jettisoning an earlier version that would have banned the spreading of manure on frozen ground... (sigh). Even as the EPA targets the Great Lakes Basin as an area of concern for excess N and P the USDA backs off and winter spreading will continue.
Here on Lake Ontario we dodged the botulism and blue green algae last summer I think partially because there was no intense calm hot spell as in July 2010. I saw no dead birds this fall, thank goodness. Our small Project Clear water sampling program did indicate signs of impairment (low oxygen, moderate phosphate levels, and consistent coliform presence) in the watersheds of Port, East and Sodus Bays but no readings for nutrients jumped off the page in any of our creek samples. ( We did get a high reading for Nitrates in a spring fed pond at the edge of a cornfield though once.)
This summer sewers were in operation for the first full season on the village side of Fair Haven Bay where we dock the boat. The difference in weed growth was dramatic. In the 13 years I have kept Titania on this side of the bay I have never seen so little weed growth. Where last year ( admittedly a bad year with it's low water levels and warm temperatures) I was barely able to get in and out of the dock by August, this year the weeds were never an impairment. I believe this huge reduction is due to the reduced inputs from failing septic systems on the bay, since the bay has virtually no watershed to speak of and agricultural activity in its watershed remains pretty constant from year to year.